Marilyn Moedinger has been selected as the Recipient of the prestigious 2010 SOM Prize, a $50,000 Research and Travel Fellowship. She received her Master of Architecture degree from the University of Virginia in 2010, and also received a BS in Architecture and a BA in History from the University of Virginia in 2005. Ms. Moedinger plans to travel to countries on four continents, carrying out her research on the topic, “Portraits of Climate Mediation in Vernacular Residential Architecture,” addressing the global challenge of climate change and the identification of cost effective strategies for climate mitigation to add to the canon of contemporary, affordable design methods and materials. Her research topic is a direct outgrowth of her experience managing the ”ecoMOD” House, a design/build/evaluate project at the School of Architecture during her undergraduate studies, her work experiences doing emergency home repair in the coalfields region of West Virginia, and her Master’s thesis work on rural affordable housing in Appalachia. A Pennsylvania native, Marilyn was born and raised on the family farm near Lancaster. Social responsibility informs her goal to “continue throughout her career to work toward solving issues of sustainability and affordable housing with a mix of vision, common sense, whimsy, and practicality."
SOM Press Release
August 2, 2012 - An Interview with 2010 SOM Fellow Marilyn Moedinger
Marilyn Moedinger, winner of the 2010 SOM Prize, visited SOM’s Chicago office on August 2, 2012 to talk about her travels. Moedinger drew a longitude line around the globe that passed through her hometown of Lancaster, Penn., to establish her itinerary. Her full report, entitled “75W-103E: Adventures in the Vernacular” can be read here. She sat down with SOM Chicago Communications Manager Edward Keegan to discuss some of her experiences.
You grew up in a house that’s been in your family for 300 years. How have you developed this incredible interest in traveling to atypical locales?
It starts with feeling grounded spatially in a place and feeling like you have roots. I want to explore what makes other people feel grounded where they are, to seek out that same feeling in other people and to feel the necessary fearlessness or recklessness you need in order to go to crazy places. When I was preparing my itinerary for SOM, I thought it would be a cop-out if I didn’t put some crazy places on there. I started with the line of longitude in my hometown and continued it around the globe without any judgment about where it landed. It went through Mongolia—so alright, that’s on the list.
How were you traveling?
My original proposal involved traveling by train everywhere, but obviously I flew to China and then took the train to Mongolia. In Mongolia, I had crazy modes of transportation—from camel cart to the back of Jeeps. I rode a horse across the desert. Part of traveling that I love is getting from point A to point B. I took the train overnight down the coast of Vietnam because I wanted to know how big this place is and the only way to do it is to take the train. If you fly, you have no sense of the space. It’s a spatial understanding, so I avoid flying whenever I can. I drove in Australia—on the other side of the street. It’s part of the adventure.
What was most memorable?
Mongolia. It was the wildest place, the place I knew the least about and the only country in the world that doesn’t have a McDonald’s. It’s such a different world and yet it didn’t feel so different in some ways.
You showed Mongolian residents setting up solar panels outside their gers—or tent. What are they using the solar panels for?
They might have a TV they run for an hour a day or they might have one lamp they run at night or they’ll charge their cell phones. Odds and ends, but not the things we might use it for. They have to be mobile, so you’re not going to have things like fridges and stoves and stuff like that. They use it for sort of incidental things. Cell phones are important in order to find each other across the desert.
What was the length of time from when you started until you finished traveling and how much time was collating and writing and designing the book?
I found out in July of 2010. I was teaching at Northeastern so I traveled during winter and spring break. My first trip was December 2010 to January 2011 when I went to Switzerland. In March, I was in Peru. Then I was in Jamaica, then my hometown, and then the Asian countries starting the end of May and I got back September 3, 2011. I started work on the book three weeks after I got back but I ended up experiencing some pretty severe reverse culture shock, so I needed a little bit of a break. I finished the rough draft in the beginning of February 2012, and completed it in April. I started lecturing—at UVa, then in my office, one at Harvard and now here [at SOM Chicago]. I guess I’m done now.
Which of the cultures you explored are closest to you in terms of your own living?
You become the pivot point of all these experiences—the people in Mongolia don’t know how the people Peru are living, so I know how both of them are living. And being that sort of pivot point around all the things, there are certain things that I do or don’t do now because of who I met and what I experienced. It changes how you look at the whole world because if you hear about a disaster halfway around the world, it doesn’t feel like halfway around the world anymore because you might have been there or you can picture how people are living or eating dinner and something happens. I don’t know if I can point to a specific thing, just more of a broadening consciousness.
What do you do next?
I can’t pull my professional trajectory away from my personal trajectory. I want to continue research and I want to teach and I want to practice. I see them as mutually beneficial to each other in interesting ways. It’s important to me that this is not self-serving. This trip was not about me expanding my horizons and being a better architect. It’s about what I need to do for the profession, for the world and by experiencing all these different things, now I can give it back in a much more meaningful way than I could have if I hadn’t done the traveling. These things will all enter into the kind of practice that needs to be happening.